Reaching for the Heights And Flying Without a Safety Net
Revolutionary Worker #1200, May 25, 2003, posted at rwor.org
Editors' Note: The following is taken from the transcript of a tape-recorded talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, toward the end of 2002. It was originally intended for distribution among Party members and others close to the Party, in particular revolutionaries of the newer generations, but we are happy to be able to share excerpts from this talk with our readers. They have been edited and footnotes have been added for publication here.
In the Chinese revolution there was the particularity of bourgeois democrats who turned into capitalist-roaders--veteran revolutionaries, leading people, who turned against the revolution as it advanced in the socialist stage. These are people, like Deng Xiaoping, whose vision never crossed beyond the narrow horizon of bourgeois right (as Marx once put it).
China before the revolution was a country dominated by imperialism and characterized by feudal, or semi-feudal, relations (particularly in the vast countryside, where the great majority of people lived); and, given the role of imperialism in the world and how that affected countries like China--including the ways it weakened and distorted the character of the Chinese bourgeoisie--it was not really possible to have a bourgeois-democratic revolution that was led by the bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, the first stage of the revolution was essentially a bourgeois-democratic revolution, aimed against imperialism and feudalism, even though it was led, and could only be led, by the proletariat and its communist vanguard. This is why Mao called this a new democratic revolution--one led by the proletariat, not the bourgeoisie, and opening the way for socialism more than for capitalism.
In these circumstances, a lot of people joined the Communist Party because it is the only force that can lead such a revolution--that can actually throw off imperialism and uproot feudalism and create the basis for a modern powerful China. So you had different views and different visions, right inside the same Communist Party. You had Mao and others who were ideologically communists, whose ultimate goal was a communist world, free of exploitation and oppression. And you had these other people whose goal was something far short of that--a powerful modern China exerting its rightful role in the world, as they saw it.
Up until a certain point, and particularly so long as the revolution did not go beyond objectives that largely corresponded to the bourgeois-democratic stage, many people whose vision did not really go beyond that stage could be within the Communist Party, and the fact that their outlook was essentially bourgeois would not really stand out in sharp contrast to the aims and objectives of the revolution. But once the (new) democratic stage of the revolution had been basically completed (which occurred with the countrywide triumph of the revolution in China in 1949), and the revolution entered the socialist stage--and especially as the socialist transformation of society was deepened--then the more acutely it stood out that some people had not really joined the revolution with a communist perspective.
And there is a general tendency that, when there are sharp turns and new challenges in the revolutionary process, this confronts people with the need to make new leaps, and especially those whose outlook has not prepared them for this--who have become accustomed to and perhaps "comfortable with" the way things have been, who have been kind of "coasting along" or even have been sliding backward--encounter real difficulties in making the necessary leaps and ruptures and may instead entrench themselves in opposition to the necessary advance. To paraphrase what Lenin said about this: momentous world events and sharp turns in the situation break some people and cause them to retreat, while others are steeled and tempered and rise to the occasion. All these factors found concentrated expression through the Cultural Revolution in China and particularly in the "last great battle" in which, unfortunately, the revisionists, led by Deng Xiaoping, won out over and crushed the revolutionary camp that was following the line of Mao.
Although there were particularities to how this went down in China, this kind of contradiction will be a defining part of every revolution. Think about the U.S. Can you eliminate national oppression without a proletarian revolution? No. Well, for that very reason, in addition to the numbers of people from the oppressed nationalities who already have and will increasingly become communists in the fullest sense, there are going to be people who are going to support the proletarian revolution, especially at the point when it really becomes a powerful material force--and there will even be people coming into the Party-- whose essential concern is to end national oppression. They will join the Party because they come to see that ending national oppression can only be done through a revolution led by the Party. It's not that they're going to say, "I only want to uproot national oppression, and I don't want to eliminate all other kinds of oppression and exploitation." But there is going to be a contradiction in their motivation, and perhaps they won't have made the leap to being as concerned about the emancipation of all oppressed and exploited people. And you're going to have people with essentially a radical bourgeois- democratic viewpoint, especially although not only people from the middle strata, who gravitate to the Party. As the system gets more repressive and institutes more fascistic measures and tramples on even some long-cherished bourgeois-democratic principles, a lot of people from the middle strata are going to turn to the communists, because there won't be anybody else who in a consistent and thoroughgoing way stands up to this.
And there are other contradictions that will propel people toward revolution and even toward the ranks of the Party, while they may still be hanging onto some bourgeois-democratic notions and prejudices. Even though people make a leap when they get to the point of wanting to join the Party, they don't come in as "Perfect Communists" (and, of course, there is no such thing--and the very notion runs counter to our understanding of reality). You can go down the line with many different kinds of questions and contradictions--you don't get "perfect people" to be communists. At the same time, you have some people who really don't make certain leaps and ruptures but it doesn't come to a breaking point until you get to a certain key juncture, or maybe an unexpected turning point.
How we handle these contradictions will have important bearing on what we do later, even though we'll be presented with magnified and, in important ways, qualitatively different contradictions as the revolutionary struggle develops. As I have emphasized, there is an important relation between how we handle contradictions now and how we handle those magnified and much more complex contradictions as things develop and even as we seize and consolidate state power.
I have referred to the opportunist approach of trying to "be all things to all people." Well, there is a history of that in the movement in the U.S. The revisionist CPUSA and other opportunist groups, they would have a certain line, but if somebody whom they looked at as representing important "capital" in the movement came and said "I don't like that part of your line, and I think something else," these opportunists would say: "Well, that's Ok. There's room for you." They'd bend their line and say things like: "Actually, we're thinking about that too. A lot of people raise that. We're thinking about changing that. Yeah, come on in and you can help change that." In other words, rather than struggling out differences in a principled way, they would be like a chameleon-- changing what they said to suit the circumstances and playing to people's inclinations, prejudices, and so on. This is a bourgeois method. It reflects a bourgeois outlook and serves bourgeois objectives: just trying to build your organization to have more capital in essence. It's another variation of the old bourgeois American pragmatism--whatever gets you over in the short run is true and good. You bend and twist and distort what you're supposed to be about in order to draw people in, in order to get over in any particular situation.
Well, obviously if you do that and then you come to any kind of real test, any real turning point in the road, you're not going to be able to stand up to it. All kinds of rot will be developing inside your organization. People are not united on the basis of principle, things are not based on the ideology that really correctly reflects reality and can lead in transforming reality.
I was reflecting again recently on the whole experience we, in the Revolutionary Union (RU), had with the National Liaison Committee, with the Black Workers Congress (BWC) and the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization (PRRWO), back in the pre-party days, in the early 1970s. (The National Liaison Committee, which was made up of representatives of the Black Workers Congress [BWC], the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization [PRRWO], and the Revolutionary Union [RU], was established to enable these three organizations to develop joint revolutionary work and to move together toward the formation of a single revolutionary communist party in the U.S. After the break- up of the National Liaison Committee, it was the RU that carried forward the struggle to forge this new vanguard party, which was successfully realized with the formation of the RCP in 1975.) It remains important to have a correct understanding of what essentially happened with that whole process.
Now, the RU at that time had its weaknesses, and I'm sure there are things, which, from the vantage point of almost 30 years of revolutionary experience and struggle since then, we would be able to understand and handle better now. But the simple fact is that what broke apart that Liaison Committee was that the BWC and the PRRWO refused to recognize that communist ideology represents a rupture with even the most radical forms of nationalist ideology, and they refused to make the leap to forming a party that would be based on and would unite its ranks around communist ideology, and no other.
I sat in the last meeting where the Liaison Committee broke up, and it was really painfully obvious that what was up there, what was essentially on the table, was this: Were we going to actually form a party based on adherence to a unified communist ideology, where everybody struggled on the basis of that ideology to apply it, to grasp reality and to transform it--and that's the way we evaluated things--or were we going to have some kind of supposed "safeguards" built in, along the lines of the same things you hear from some people nowadays--"we have to have a certain number of people of the oppressed nationalities in leadership, they have to be the majority in leadership, that's the only way we can guarantee that we won't get sold out," and so on.
Now, in reference to this problem of leaders "selling out," I made the point in the interview with Carl Dix that, unfortunately, if you want to sell out to the system they'll always provide you with a way to do it.* I don't care who you are, what nationality you are, what gender, and so on. That's one of the realities of what we're dealing with. There are no guarantees. You can't build in any kind of organizational thing that's going to provide such a "guarantee"--and trying to do this will only do harm--especially as it runs counter to our ideology. With that kind of approach, you're just undermining what you're setting out to do, even if you think you're "building in a safeguard."
Of course, this comes from real things in society. I was talking to some people about this the other day, talking about the particularity of the U.S.--how, if you're not white in the U.S., you have almost certainly had the painful experience, for example, where you know some white people you think are your friends, and they even have some good stands on issues, and then all of a sudden something happens and out they jump with "nigger, this" or "all immigrants are just fucked up." What the hell is that? It's just a really painful experience that poses the question for people: if you're not white, can you have friends who are white, or is there going to be some point when push comes to shove and out comes this ugly shit out of somewhere? We know where it comes from--it comes out of this society, out of its prevailing relations and ideology. But this is a real question for people. It's a painful experience and almost everybody--Black, Chicano, Latino, Puerto Rican, Native American, Asian--has gone through something like this and had one of these burning experiences where all of sudden somebody you thought was your friend stabs you in the back and the same old shit comes out.
It's not like we're dealing in a vacuum here. It's not like when people from the BWC and PRRWO were raising this line they were raising it out of nowhere or just out of some sort of perverse individual oddity of theirs. But if we're going to make a leap to actually transforming all of this--overthrowing and transforming, as I've been talking about, we have to do it on the basis of a common ideology, uniting on the basis of communist ideology.
And this is a matter of class struggle, too--there's an intense class struggle in the ideological realm. There are lots of forms and expressions of bourgeois ideology, of the ideology of oppression and exploitation, that come out in many different ways, and they each have their particularities. But it's not like there's something magical, or mystical, mysterious or unfathomable about this--whether it's racism, or male chauvinism, or other forms of reactionary ideology. It's the influence of the social conditions and the dominant social relations and the ideology that reinforces all this --that's what gives expression to these particular forms of reactionary ideology. And there's no other way--no way other than uniting on the basis of MLM and struggling things out on that basis--to resolve these contradictions within a party and ultimately within society (and the world) as a whole.
This was very painful to see--that we came to the point where that was the rupture that was on the table and people who you'd worked with and become close with and had hopes and aspirations of forming a party with, drew the line and wouldn't make that rupture.
If we had gone along with what they wanted us to go along with, and if we had actually formed a party on that basis, we would have been just one of these groups that have fallen apart, or imploded, over the times. It might have looked good, on a superficial level, but it would have been built on a rotting foundation, just as some of these other groups managed to have a certain amount of "capital" in the movement, for a time, but they didn't have MLM and they couldn't sustain themselves through the twists and turns and the decisive turning points.
Now, there is the fact that we do have to continually bring forward increasing numbers of people from among the proletariat and from among the oppressed nationalities. We have to continue to develop them as leaders of the proletarian revolution and leaders of the Party. But we have to do that as part of the overall task of building our Party as the proletarian vanguard, leading the proletariat and masses of people to make revolution, based on MLM, and not on any other basis.
Again, a defining feature of the revolutionary process is that there will repeatedly be key junctures in which fundamental questions will be sharply posed and great challenges have to be met. And the question will be repeatedly posed: do you make the necessary ruptures and leaps, or do you go backward and perhaps go into the abyss? Really coming to grips with this is a decisive part of confronting reality as it actually is--in all of its complexity and in its motion and development--and transforming reality on that basis.
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